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Thursday, August 17, 2006

'Actually, Dumbass, All I Have to Do Is Keep the Reader's Attention for Twenty Pages, by Whatever Means Necessary'
There's a nice and long interview with George Saunders up at Guernica. It's a good read. Click the [+/-] for a lengthy excerpt.
Guernica: Is 'science fiction' a label you embrace or shy away from?

George Saunders: I'm happy with it. I didn't really read a lot of it when I was young. But I had a big moment with --well, I watched a lot of Star Trek. I didn't really like it at the time but I think I absorbed it. And there was one moment in Star Wars, when the first one came out in 1560 or whenever it was, I remember being in the theater and there's that one scene where the ships fly over your head and you can see that they're all kind of junked up on the bottom. They're all scraped up and there's like rust and everything.

And something about that--I can't really explain it but that moment--was when in a certain way the genre science fiction just fell away from me, because I thought, "Oh yeah, no matter how advanced we get--whether we have robotic cars or whatever--we're still gonna fuck everything up with our human-ness." Like if we have holograms, we're gonna use them for porn. If you have a guy with a chip in his head, he's gonna be used for marketing. So that was a moment for me when I thought it's all science fiction. I mean, think about the concept of the i-pod. You know ten years ago that was unthinkable. So now we have these i-pods, and even old farts like me have i-pods. Yet, maybe I've got REO Speedwagon on there. So--

Guernica: [laughs, long time]

George Saunders: I don't see a real distinction between science fiction and fiction; it's all the same--

In a lot of the interviews with you that I looked at, the interviewers or maybe reviewers were trying to get a handle on whether your stories about the near future were hopeful or 'dark'--this was the word many used. I have my take, but obviously now I'm more interested in your take. Is the future bright or is it the dents on the bottom of the Millenium Falcon--or worse?

George Saunders: Honestly, what I'm coming to think is yes. When I was younger--and this is just egotism--I thought that I of course, being me, had been born at the precise moment in human history when things would deflect one way or the other. Either we would all be saved or all be damned.

You mean that's not true?

George Saunders:
[laughs] So, no, then at 47 you say, "I'm gonna be dead, and it's gonna keep going. It's gonna be just as fucked up and beautiful as it is now." And depending on where you are and who you are, it's either absolute nirvana or it's the worst hell imaginable. And you could even be in the same house. And so I think one of the sort of sad but mostly liberating things you realize is that it has always been thus. And it's not gonna change in our lifetimes. And the exhilarating part for me is to think, Gee, if that's true, then the world as I'm experiencing it right this minute in my kitchen in Syracuse, New York, is exactly the same basic apparatus as Shakespeare experienced or Jesus experienced or Buddha experienced or whoever, that there's a kind of liveliness, a kind of vitality in every moment, that I think is very exciting and also scary.

It's not the case that we're gonna cure all our problems. But it's also not the case that all our pleasure will ever vanish. I think at the very last minute of the world, after we've global-warmed ourselves, and it's 400 degress and only the elite can live in these little refrigerators with plasma TVs, the people who are burning to death outside are gonna kind of be reaching for the hand of the person next to them or having a memory of childhood or finding some way of knowing pleasure in that. So I think in a way it's sort of a hopeful vision. The most hopeful thing in the stories, I hope, is wit. I make it up. If I make up a world in which we're ruled by big talking turds, it doesn't mean that we are. So you shouldn't feel depressed...

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